Round two. Four teams have advanced. Four are going home. The second round of the NFL Playoffs get underway Saturday as New England and Arizona play their second round contests after their bye week. Things conclude on Sunday when Carolina and Denver meet their second round foes. The defending Super Bowl champs, the second seed in the AFC, hosts Kansas City on Saturday afternoon in Foxboro, while the Cardinals and Packers meet in the desert on Saturday night. Then on Sunday afternoon, after most of the nation returns home from church, it’s the defending NFC champs going to the Tar Heel State to face Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers in the early game, while Pittsburgh and Denver, with eight Super Bowls between them, meet in the Mile High City in a late Sunday afternoon contest.

Again, the theme is simple.




Your next game is in September 2016.

The winners become the final four teams that have a shot of going to Santa Clara for the big game.

That game.

Super Bowl 50 (or Super Bowl L for you that are fans of Roman numerals).

For the first time in playoff history, all four road teams have taken wins. In this second round, three of the four games that will be played this weekend are rematches from the regular season (Seattle-Carolina in week six, Green Bay-Arizona in week 16 and Pittsburgh-Denver in week 10).

As the saying goes, familiarity breeds contempt. No secrets are hid.

For those teams that lost that first meeting, it’s a chance to get revenge. For those that won the first meeting, it’s a chance to prove that the first time was not a fluke. In any case, it’s a chance to advance to the final round for that trip to play at Levis’ Stadium in February.

VIEW FROM THE TOP: Since the NFL moved to a 12-team playoff format in 1990, No. 1 seeds in the NFC are 21-4 (.840) in the Divisional Playoffs. In the AFC, the No. 1 seed has compiled a 15-10 (.600) record.

Both number 1 seeds are in action this weekend when top-seeded Carolina hosts Seattle in the NFC and Denver hosts Pittsburgh in the AFC.

The No. 1 seeds in Divisional-round play since 1990:
1990 – Buffalo (Defeated Miami 44-34)
1991 – Buffalo (Defeated Kansas City 37-14)
1992 – Pittsburgh (Lost to Buffalo 24-3)
1993 – Buffalo (Defeated Los Angeles Raiders 29-23)
1994 – Pittsburgh (Defeated Cleveland 29-9)
1995 – Kansas City (Lost to Indianapolis 10-7)
1996 – Denver (Lost to Jacksonville 30-27)
1997 – Kansas City (Lost to Denver 14-10)
1998 – Denver (Defeated Miami 38-3)
1999 – Jacksonville (Defeated Miami 62-7)
2000 – Tennessee (Lost to Baltimore 24-10)
2001 – Pittsburgh (Defeated Baltimore 27-10)
2002 – Oakland (Defeated New York Jets 30-10)
2003 – New England (Defeated Tennessee 17-14)
2004 – Pittsburgh (Defeated New York Jets 20-17 (OT)
2005 – Indianapolis (Lost to Pittsburgh 21-18)
2006 – San Diego (Lost to New England 24-21)
2007 – New England (Defeated Jacksonville 31-20)
2008 – Tennessee (Lost to Baltimore 13-10)
2009 – Indianapolis (Defeated Baltimore 20-3)
2010 – New England (Lost to New York Jets 28-21)
2011 – New England (Defeated Denver 45-10)
2012 – Denver (Lost to Baltimore 38-35 (2OT)
2013 – Denver (Defeated San Diego 24-17)
2014 – New England (Defeated Baltimore 35-31)
2015 – Denver (???)

1990 – San Francisco (Defeated Washington 28-10)
1991 – Washington (Defeated Atlanta 24-7)
1992 – San Francisco (Defeated Washington 20-13)
1993 – Dallas (Defeated Green Bay 27-17)
1994 – San Francisco (Defeated Chicago 44-15)
1995 – Dallas (Defeated Philadelphia 30-11)
1996 – Green Bay (Defeated San Francisco 35-14)
1997 – San Francisco (Defeated Minnesota 38-22)
1998 – Minnesota (Defeated Arizona 41-21)
1999 – St. Louis (Defeated Minnesota 49-37)
2000 – New York Giants (Defeated Philadelphia 20-10)
2001 – St. Louis (Defeated Green Bay 45-17)
2002 – Philadelphia (Defeated Atlanta 20-6)
2003 – Philadelphia (Defeated Green Bay 20-17 (OT)
2004 – Philadelphia (Defeated Minnesota 27-14)
2005 – Seattle (Defeated Washington 20-10)
2006 – Chicago (Defeated Seattle 27-24 (OT)
2007 – Dallas (Lost to New York Giants 21-17)
2008 – New York Giants (Lost to Philadelphia 23-11)
2009 – New Orleans (Defeated Arizona 45-14)
2010 – Atlanta (Lost to Green Bay 48-21)
2011 – Green Bay (Lost to New York Giants 37-20)
2012 – Atlanta (Defeated Seattle 30-28)
2013 – Seattle (Defeated New Orleans 23-15)
2014 – Seattle (Defeated Carolina 31-17)
2015 – Carolina (???)

FIRST-ROUND BYES: The top seeds – Carolina (15-1, NFC number 1 seed), Denver (12-4, AFC number 1 seed), Arizona (13-3, NFC number 2 seed) and New England (12-4, AFC number 2 seed) – earned first-round byes and will be featured in this weekend’s Divisional Playoffs.

Two of the four top seeds rank among the teams with the most first-round byes since the 12-team playoff format was adopted in 1990. New England (11) has the most, while Denver (eight) is tied for the second-most since 1990.

The teams with the most first-round byes since 1990:
New England Patriots – 11*
Denver Broncos – 8*
Pittsburgh Steelers – 8
San Francisco 49ers – 8
Dallas Cowboys – 5
Green Bay Packers – 5
*Includes 2015

CHAMPIONSHIP GOAL: This weekend, Pittsburgh (11-6, AFC number 6 seed) will travel to take on Denver (12-4, AFC number 1 seed).

With a victory against the Broncos, the Steelers would advance to its 16th AFC Championship Game, which would eclipse SAN FRANCISCO (15) for the most appearances in a Conference Championship Game since 1970.

New England is tied for fourth on the all-time list and with a win against Kansas City on Saturday the Patriots would clinch their fifth consecutive appearance in the AFC Championship Game.

The teams with the most appearances in a Conference Championship Game since 1970:
Pittsburgh Steelers – 15*
San Francisco 49ers – 15
Dallas Cowboys – 14
Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders – 11
New England Patriots – 11**
*At Denver on Sunday
**Host Kansas City on Saturday

PLAYOFF SUCCESS: Pittsburgh has 34 postseason victories, tied for the most all-time.

With a win Sunday against Denver, the Steelers would eclipse the Dallas Cowboys (34) for the most all-time postseason wins.

The teams with the most playoff victories in NFL history:
Dallas Cowboys – 34
Pittsburgh Steelers – 34*
Green Bay Packers – 32*
San Francisco 49ers – 30
New England Patriots – 28*
*Active in 2015 postseason

ON THE ROAD AGAIN: Green Bay travels this weekend to face Arizona. The Packers (11) have the most road wins in postseason history.

With a win this Saturday against the Cardinals, the Packers can extend their record for the most postseason wins on the road in NFL history.

The teams with the most road wins in postseason history:
Green Bay Packers – 11*
Baltimore Ravens – 10
Dallas Cowboys – 9
Indianapolis Colts – 8
New York Giants – 8
Tennessee Titans – 8
*Play on the road in Divisional Round

TERRIFIC TIGHT ENDS: Denver tight end Vernon Davis has seven career postseason touchdown receptions, tied with Pro Football Hall of Famer Dave Casper for the most by a tight end in postseason history.

With a touchdown catch on Sunday against Pittsburgh, Davis would eclipse Casper for the most postseason touchdown receptions by a tight end in NFL history.

New England tight end Rob Gronkowski (six), who is tied with Keith Jackson (six) and Jay Novacek (six) for the third-most touchdown receptions by a tight end in postseason history, can also climb the ranks on Saturday against Kansas City.

The tight ends with the most postseason touchdown receptions in NFL history:
Dave Casper – 7
Vernon Davis – 8*
Rob Gronkowski – 6*
Keith Jackson – 6
Jay Novacek – 6
*Active in 2015 postseason

CATCHING ON: Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has nine touchdowns receptions in his postseason career.

With a touchdown catch against Green Bay on Saturday, Fitzgerald would become the seventh player in NFL history with at least 10 postseason touchdown receptions and move into a tie for the third-most all-time.

The players with the most postseason touchdown receptions in NFL history:
Jerry Rice – 22
John Stallworth – 12
Fred Biletnikoff – 10
Antonio Freeman – 10
Randy Moss – 10
Hines Ward – 10
Larry Fitzgerald – 9*
*Active in 2015 postseason

WINNING PARTICIPANTS: Pittsburgh and Green Bay both won on Wild Card weekend as the Steelers defeated Cincinnati 18-16 and the Packers won 35-18 against Washington.

The win marked Pittsburgh’s 34th postseason victory, tying the Dallas Cowboys for the most postseason wins in NFL history. The Packers rank third in NFL history with 32 postseason wins.

The teams with the most postseason wins in NFL history:
Dallas Cowboys: 34-26, .567 (5)
Pittsburgh Steelers: 34-22, .607 (6)
Green Bay Packers: 32-20, .615 (4)
San Francisco 49ers: 30-20 .600 (5)
New England Patriots: 28-18, .609 (4)
Oakland Raiders: 25-18, .581 (3)

With the win, Green Bay now has a .615 postseason winning percentage, the second-highest in NFL history (Baltimore Ravens, .652). Pittsburgh moved into fourth place all-time with a .607 postseason winning percentage.

The teams with the highest postseason winning percentage in NFL history:
Baltimore Ravens: .652 (15-8; 2)
Green Bay Packers: .615 (32-20; 4)
New England Patriots: .609 (28-18; 4)
Pittsburgh Steelers: .607 (34-22; 6)
San Francisco 49ers: .600 (30-20; 5)

STREAKING SMITH: Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith completed 17 of 22 passes (77.3 percent) for 190 yards with a touchdown and an interception in a 30-0 Chiefs win against Houston.

Smith started the game with five pass attempts without an interception, extending his streak of consecutive postseason pass attempts without an INT to 119. Smith’s 119 pass attempts surpassed Jeff Hostetler (115) for the longest such streak to start a career in postseason history.

The most consecutive pass attempts without an interception to start a career in postseason history:
Alex Smith, 2012-16; 119
Jeff Hostetler, 1991-94; 115
Roger Staubach, 1969-73; 103
Peyton Manning, 2000-03; 101




Kickoff is in September 2016.

It’s football’s answer to the Elite Eight. Eight of 32 teams are left standing, playing meaningful football, while the other teams are at home wondering what happened, preparing for the draft and making coaching and roster changes.

As for last week, things were not bad, as we went 3-1 in the four playoff games, which makes us 159-87.

This week, it’s for all the marbles.

Win and advance.

Lose. Clean your lockers out, get ready for OTA’s, the draft, camp and kickoff for your season opener in September of 2016. It’s the reality of football but it’s also the beauty of the game as well. For those that win, it puts them one step closer to their goal of Santa Clara and it’s the same goal that the other teams have had all season.

With that, here are the Divisonal Playoff Games for Saturday and Sunday.

Kansas City (11-5) at New England (12-4), 4:35 p.m. Saturday on CBS. Kansas City and New England start the second round of the post-season party in Foxboro as the defending champs host the streaking Chiefs at Gillette Stadium.

The Chiefs have won 11 consecutive games. That win marked the third-largest shutout victory by a road team in NFL postseason history. Kansas City started the postseason off with a 106-yard kickoff-return touchdown by Knile Davis, the second-longest kick-return touchdown in NFL playoff history.

“We wanted to come in and dominate,” says Chiefs Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry. “Right now, we are locked in and ready for next week.”

Kansas City took care of business against Houston last Saturday afternoon and ended 22 years of playoff frustration in their 30-0 blowout win over the Texans at NRG Stadium. The Chiefs scored all 30 of their points unchallenged and opened the scoring with a 106-yard kickoff return by Knile Davis before the fans could get comfortable in their seats (the kickoff return was the first for the Chiefs in postseason history). From that point forward, it was all Kansas City as WR Chris Conley and Alex Smith connected on a 9-yard TD pass, RB Spencer Ware scoring on a 5-yard run and K Cairo Santos nailing three field goals, with his last coming from 33 yards with 3:59 left to play to ice the game away. Kansas City outrushed Houston 141-114, while making life less than enjoyable for Texans QB Blaine Hoyer, sacking him three times and picking him off four times (Houston turned the ball over five times in the blowout). Kansas City was 4 of 11 on third down tries in the win and ruled the clock, holding the ball for 34:25, while the Texans went 6 of 14 on third down and 0 of 1 on fourth down conversions, keeping the ball for 25:35. The last team to have a shutout in post-season play? Carolina, who shutout the NeW York Giants 23-0 in the 2006 playoffs.

New England and Tom Brady limp into the second round of post-season play after their 20-10 loss at Miami to close out the regular season. Brady threw for 134 yards but had no touchdowns and was knocked out of the contest with an ankle injury. New England was held to 70 yards on the ground, while Miami had 96 in the contest, while Ryan Tannehill threw for 350 yards and a pair of TDs. New England trailed 10-3 at the intermission before tying the contest 10-10 when Sean Jackson scored on a 2-yard run with 12:32 left in the third quarter. Miami then proceeded to score their final 10 points of the contest, with Tannehill and TE Jordan Cameron connected on a 2-yard pass and rookie K Andrew Franks rounded out the scoring with a 19-yard field goal with 1:56 left to play. New England was 4 of 14 on third down conversions, keeping the ball for 28:55, while the Dolphins were 8 of 17 on third down (both clubs went 0 of 1 on fourth down tries) and kept the pigskin for 31:05.

The Patriots, the defending Super Bowl champions, have won seven consecutive AFC East titles and earned a first-round bye for the sixth season in a row. At 12-4, New England became the fifth team in NFL history to post at least 15 consecutive winning seasons and the first to do so since San Francisco (1983-98, 16 seasons).

Quarterback Tom Brady has 21 career postseason wins, the most in NFL history. Head coach Bill Belichick has 22 playoff victories and last year passed Pro Football Hall of Famer Tom Landry (20) for the most in league history.

“You’ve got to play your biggest at the biggest moments against the best teams in the toughest conditions,” Brady told the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald. “You’ve got to see what you’re made of. That’s what this tournament is all about.”

They’ve never met in the post-season and have met 33 times in the regular season, with the Chiefs holding a 17-13-3 lead in the series, which includes contests that were played at Fenway Park as the Boston Patroits and the Chiefs were in Dallas and known as the Texans. The last meeting between the clubs took place in Arrowhead in 2014 and the Chiefs came away 41-14 winners. (New England’s last win in the series came in Foxboro in 2011 by a final of 34-3). They met in week four on a Monday night and the Chiefs led 27-7 after three quarters of play and never looked back, holding the Pats to 75 yards rushing, while Kansas City’s Knile Davis ran roughshod over the Pats, rushing for 107 of the Chiefs’ 207 yards. Kansas City forced three turnovers in the game, picking Brady (159 yards) off twice, while Smith tallied 248 yards with three TDs and no interceptions. Neither club had a fourth down try and on third down conversions, the Pats were a somewhat dismal 2 of 9, while the Chiefs were 7 of 12. Kansas City also ruled the clock, keeping the ball for 36:27, while the Pats held on to the pigskin for 23:33.

In that contest in Kansas City at Arrowhead, New England was favored by 3 1/2 and the Chiefs covered the spread, winning by 27 and both clubs covered the 45 over/under by 10 points. The oddsmakers like the defending champs at home as 5 1/2 point favorites with a 42 1/2 over/under. Kansas City’s been hot of late but for them, the clock has struck midnight, the coachmen have turned back into mice and the carrage has gone back to being a football. This time, Brady and the Pats will wear the glass slipper in Foxboro as Kansas City’s charmed life comes to an end. Pats win at home and cover the 5 1/2.

Green Bay (10-6) at Arizona (13-3), 8:15 p.m. Saturday on NBC. They meet again in the desert. Rodgers vs. Palmer. Round two. This time, it’s for all the chips and salsa. Green Bay, fresh off their upset win at Washington, travels to Glendale for a Satuurday night contest at University of Phoenix Stadium.

The Packers trailed 5-0 after the first 15 minutes of action but came away 35-18 winners at Fed Ex Field against the Washington Redskins. After Aaron Rodgers was sacked in the end zone for a safety to open the scoring in the contest and Daniel Hopkins connected on a 25-yard field in hte opening period, the Packers ruled the rest of the contest, outscoring the NFC East champions in the last 45 minutes of play 35-13, leading 17-11 at the half in the process. While rushing for 141 yards (with Packers RB Eddie Lacy leading all rushers with 63 yards and a TD), Green Bay held Washingto to 84 yards on the ground and sacked Redskins QB Kirk Cousins six times. Rodgers returned to his old form, throwing for 210 yards and a pair of TDs, one to Randall Cobb, the other to WR Davante Adams. The one bright spot for Washington was TE Jordan Reid, who caught nine Cousins passes for 120 yards and a TD (Cousins was 29 of 46 for 329 yards, while Rodgers was 21 of 36 for 210). Green Bay in the 17-point win in Landover went 3 of 11 on third down tries but struck gold in their only fourth down try, keeping the ball for 29:33. Washington did manage to rule the clock, holding on the ball for 30:27, going 5 of 15, 1 of 4 on third and fourth downs.

Arizona was held to a 17-yard TD pass to Larry Fitzgerald from Palmer in the second quarter and were in check by Seattle 36-6 in the season closer for both clubs in Glendale two Sundays ago. The Desert Angry Birds trailed 30-6 at the intermisssion and could never really recover from the deficit. Seattle held Arizona to 27 yards rushing, while rushing for 145, with RB Christine Michael leading the way with 102. Russell Wilson burned Arizona’s secondary for 197 yards and three TDs without an interception, while Palmer and Drew Stanton combined to throw three interceptions. Seattle went 8 of 15 on third down tries (1 of 1 on fourth down) and kept the ball for 36:37, while Arizona was 5 of 12 and 0 of 1 on third and fourth downs, with the Desert Angry Birds keeping the pigskin in their nest for 23:23.

“The playoffs bring it out of all of us,” Rodgers told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “It’s a one-and-done mentality. We know how to win these games.”

The Cardinals won a franchise-record 13 games and captured the team’s first NFC West division title since 2009. Arizona has won at least 10 games in all three seasons under head coach Bruce Arians.

The Cardinals’ offense scored a team-record 489 points (30.6 per game) led by Pro Bowl quarterback Carson Palmer and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. Palmer set club records with 4,671 passing yards, 35 touchdown passes and a 104.6 passer rating. Fitzgerald, who holds NFL records for the most catches (30), receiving yards (546) and touchdown receptions (seven) in a single postseason (2008), had a team-record 109 catches and his seventh 1,000-yard season (1,215 yards).

“The regular season is over,” Palmer told the Arizona Republic. “Now the fun begins.”

They met in week 16 in the desert and it was anything but fun for the Packers, as they fell behind 17-0 at the half against the Desert Angry Birds and fell to Arizona 38-8. Although Rodgers (15 of 30, 151 yards) did manage to toss a TD pass to Lacy to end Arizona’s bid for a shutout, Rodgers did find himself being sacked eight times and picked off once, while Palmer threw for 265 yards and a pair of TDs, one to Fitzgerald from three yards out to open the scoring in the game. Arizona, who outrushed Green Bay 121-101, went 50 percent on third down tries at 5 of 10 and kept the ball for 30:16 (Arizona did not have a fourth down attempt), while the Packers were 5 of 17 on third down tries (2 of 3 on fourth down) and kept the ball for 29:44.

In the week 16 contest in the desert, Arizona covered the 4 1/2-point spread, winning by 30 but both clubs missed the 49 1/2 over/under with 46 combined points scored. Arizona’s favored by 7 at home in the desert and the over/under this time is 50. Both numbers make a lot of sense. Green Bay’s looking to prove itself and fly the NFC North banner after Minnesota’s “Frozen” dismissal from the post-season last Sunday, while Arizona is looking for a possible date with Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. Green Bay makes this one close but Arizona advances to the next round, even though they may not cover the 7.

Seattle (10-6) at Carolina (15-1), 1:05 p.m. Sunday on FOX. Russell vs. Cam. It’s football’s answer to “The Young Guns,” as a pair of future Hall of Fame signal callers square off in the Tar Heel State to open playoff action on Sunday.

The Seahawks improved to 6-1 in the postseason over the past three seasons under head coach Pete Carroll. Seattle, which is the second team in NFL history to lead the league in fewest points allowed in four consecutive seasons (Cleveland, 1953-57), has won six consecutive road games and allowed just one offensive touchdown.

“We realize we’ve got to do this on the road and if we want to do something really special, it’s going to take an incredible run here,” Carroll told the Seattle Post-Intellingencer, KIRO-TV and KING-TV. “So we’re just getting ready for Carolina and we’re going to do everything we can to see if we can slow them down and find a way to move the football against a great football team. We’re going to have to play great football.”

The Panthers had a franchise-record 15 wins and posted the best record in the NFL (15-1). Carolina won the NFC South division title for the third consecutive season under head coach Ron Rivera. The Panthers had an NFL-best 10 players selected to the Pro Bowl: linebacker Thomas Davis (first), center Ryan Kalil (fifth), linebacker Luke Kuechly (third), quarterback Cam Newton (third), cornerback Josh Norman (first), tight end Greg Olsen (second), defensive tackle Kawann Short (first), running back Jonathan Stewart (first), fullback Mike Tolbert (second) and guard Trai Turner (first).

Newton is the only player in NFL history with at least 30 passing touchdowns (35) and 10 rushing touchdowns (10) in a season. He passed for 3,837 yards and rushed for 636 yards, becoming the first player in league history to have at least 3,000 passing yards and 500 rushing yards in five seasons.

“Our guys feel that we have a lot to prove,” Rivera told the Charlotte Observer “And I agree. It’s exciting to see us playing well and it’s great to see the guys enjoying it. It’s great to see the guys with their confidence.”

The defending NFC champs will have a little warmer weather to deal with this Sunday, coming off their 10-9 win over the Minnesota Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium on the campus of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Trailing 9-0 after 45 minutes in -6 degree weather (the wind chill? A balmy -25) in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Seattle ended Minnesota’s shutout bid in the fourth quarter when WR Doug Baldwin and Wilson connected on a 3-yard TD pass for the game’s only TD with 11:37 left in regulation, narrowing Minnesota’s lead to 9-7. The Seahawks would take the lead for keeps when K Steven Hauschka connected on a 46-yard field goal with 8:04 and then Seahawk fans held their breath and said their prayers when with 26 seconds left, Vikings kicker Blair Walsh attempted a 27 yard field goal, which would not only would be his fourth field goal of the day but would have given Minnesota the lead. Walsh’s kick looked good at first until the ball veered to the left, missing its intended mark, allowing Seattle fans to exhale. Seattle outrushed Minnesota 97-58 (Christine Michael led all rushers with 70, while Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson had 45 with a key fumble that gave Seattle the ball in decent field position), while Teddy Bridgewater outpassed Wilson 146-142. Seattle was 5 of 14 on third down conversions (0 of 3 on fourth down) and kept the ball for 27:34, while Minnesota ruled the clock, keeping the ball for 32:26, while going 3 of 13 and 1 of 1 on third and fourth downs.

Carolina enjoyed their bye week and comes back to action after their 38-10 win over Jameis Winston and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Charlotte in week 17. The Phanthers overcame a 3-0 first quarter deficit at Bank of America Stadium, outscoring the Bucs 38-7 in the final 45 minutes of play and took a 24-3 lead with them into the half. Newton ran for a pair of TDs in the contest and threw for two more to seal the win and the top seed in the NFC playoffs. Carolina outrushed Tampa Bay 111-77 and picked Winston off twice in the rematch in the Tar Heel State. Suprisingly, both teams did quite well on third down conversions (Tampa Bay was 8 of 16, Carolina was 7 of 10), while Tampa Bay was 1 of 2 on fourth down. Carolina ruled the clock, holding the ball for 31:50, while Tampa Bay kept it for 28:10.

Carolina and Seattle will meet in the postseason for the third time. The Seahawks have won both meetings, including last year’s Divisional Playoff 31-17 in Seattle. The teams met earlier this season in Week 6 and the Panthers scored two late touchdowns to pull out a 27-23 come-from-behind victory. In that week six contest in the land of grunge, salmon and Starbucks, Seattle led 20-14 after three quarters of action before the Panthers took control of things in the contest, with Newton tossing a TD pass and rushing for a TD of his own. Carolina outrushed Seattle 135-115 at CenturyLink Field, sacking wilson four times in the Pacific Northwest. The Panthers were 4 of 11 on third down conversions (0 of 1 on fourth down) and kept the ball for 32:12, while Seattle was 4 of 14 on third down (the Seahawks did not have a fourth down try) and held on to the ball for 27:48.

Seattle was favored by 6 1/2 in the week six contest in the land of grunge, salmon and Starbucks but Carolina came away 4-point winners, meaning that the spread was not covered. That was the bad news. The good news? Both teams covered the 41 1/2 over/under, combining for 50 points. This time, the Panthers are favored by 2 1/2 and the over/under is 44. Wilson. Newton. The winner gets to either stay home and host the NFC championship game or go on the road. Carolina takes this one but BARELY covers the 2 1/2.

Pittsburgh (10-6) at Denver (12-4), 4:40 p.m. Sunday on CBS. Roethlisberger. Manning. They meet again and this time, it’s in the Rocky Mountains. A pair of AFC foes with Super Bowl pedigrees meet at Sports Authority Field in a late-afternoon contest.

Pittsburgh survived a scare in Cincinnati in the Wild Card round last Saturday night and came away 18-16 winners over the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. Leading 15-0 after 45 minutes of play, the Steelers saw their lead get away from them as Cincinnati broke their bid for a shutout when HB Jeremy Hill scored on a 1-yard run with 13:57 left to play in regulation. After a 36-yard field goal by Mike Nugent made things 15-10, Cincinnati took their only lead of the contest when the AJ’s (Green and McCarron) connected on a 25-yard TD pass with 1:50 left in the contest. That lead would not last long as Pittsburgh would march down the field and got help, thanks in part to a pair of costly Bengal penalties (both personal fouls against Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones) that moved the ball closer and reclaimed the lead with 14 seconds left when K Chris Boswell connected on a 35-yard field goal for the 18-16 lead. Cincinnanti had one last try to take the lead back and send Bengal fans happy but that would not be the case, as Green and McCarren could not connect on the final play of the contest.

With their win over Cincinnati last Saturday night, Pittsburgh picked up their 34th post-season victory, which ties them with Dallas for the most in NFL history.

“This is January football,” Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin told KDKA-TV and Radio.“We’re not a perfect group but we did enough to move on. We hope to say that again next week.”

Pittsburgh outrushed Cincinnati 167-91 and Roethlisberger outpaced McCarron 229-212 (each man was sacked three times), with the Bengals turning the ball over three times in the 2-point loss along the banks of the Ohio River. Pittsburgh was 2 of 13 on third down tries and kept the ball for 30:37, while the Bengals kept it for 29:23, going 5 of 15 on third down (both teams were 1 of 1 on fourth down).

The top-seeded Broncos come back to action after their bye week and a 27-20 win over AFC West foe San Diego the Sunday after New Years Day. They also get Peyton Manning back and he led the Broncos to their 7-point win over Philip Rivers and the Bolts at home after they trailed 20-17 with 12:58 left to play in regulation. After a 35-yard field goal by Brian McMannus, the Broncos took the lead and the AFC West title for good with a 23-yard TD run by Ronnie Hillman with 4:44 left in the contest. Hillman ran for 117 yards on 15 carries in the contest (Denver outrushed San Diego 210-110) and Manning took over for a struggling Brock Osweiler, who outpaced Rivers in passing yardage 232-228 but threw a pair of interceptions, forcing the change under center for Denver (Rivers was sacked three times in the game and picked off twice). Denver was 5 of 11 on third down conversions at Sports Authority Field and kept the ball for 25:28, while the Chargers ruled the clock, holding the pigskin for 34:32, while going 6 of 18 and 0 of 2 on third and fourth down conversions. “I just do what I think is best for our football team,” Denver head coach Gary Kubiak told KUSA-TV and the Rocky Mountain News about naming Manning the starter. “I feel really good about this and how far Peyton has come.”

The Broncos, who led the NFL in total defense (283.1 yards per game) and passing defense (199.6 yards per game), had four players selected to the Pro Bowl and all four are on the defensive side of the ball: cornerback Chris Harris, Jr. (second), linebacker Von Miller (fourth), cornerback Aqib Talib (third) and linebacker De Marcus Ware (ninth).

Denver and Pittsburgh in post-season play will meet for the eighth time and the Broncos lead the playoff series 4-3 but the Steelers have outscored Broncos 179-155. Denver took the last post-season contest in 2011, winning 29-23 in overtime in the first round of the AFC playoffs in the Mile High City (Pittsburgh’s last post-season win over the Broncos came in 2005 in the Divisonal Playoffs in Denver by a final of 34-17).

They met in the Steel City in week 15 and at the time, the Broncos had Osweiler under center as Manning was nursing an injured foot. Denver led 27-13 at the half at Heinz Field and saw that lead get away from them in the final 30 minutes of action as the Steelers bounced back, shutting out Denver 21-0, with Pittsburgh taking the lead for good when WR Antonio Brown and Roethlisberger connected on a 23-yard TD strike with 3:24 left in regulation. Denver did outrush Pittsburgh 104-23 but Roethlisberger outpaced Osweiler in passing yardage 380-296 (each had three TD passes, with Roethlisberger being sacked three times with a pair of interceptions, while OSwelier was sacked twice). Denver on third down in the week 15 contest was 9 of 17 (0 of 2 on fourth down) and held on to the ball for 28:44, while the Steelers were 7 of 15 on third down without a fourth down try and kept the ball for 31:16.

In the week 15 contest, Pittsburgh was favored by 6 1/2 and won by 7. Both clubs covered the 45 over/under by scoring 61 total points. It’s the Broncos that are the darlings of the oddsmakers, who have named them 6 1/2 point favorites with a 38 over/under. Roethlisberger vs. Manning makes this one “DRILL WORTHY.” (For those of you that know what The Drill is, you are excused. Everyone else, pay attention. We don’t want any rookie mistakes here, k?)

After you go to the 9:30 mass on Sunday (the 4:30 vigil mass on Saturday counts as a mass attended, people! Don’t make us send the nuns after you! If we do, it is SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO OVER!), head to your favorite store (a trip to Wal Mart, Target, K-Mart or Costco counts) and get the vittles and the beverages (soda, beer, wine, coffee, et al… if you live in a state that allows the purchase of the items in question) and invite the co-workers, the neighbors (including that really cute kindergarden teacher that knows what to do with a cover-2 defense) and your cousin Connie (remember her? She’s the one that’s been married twice that’s just turned 56 last June and dates a 41-year old ex-Marine, who’s now a football coach at the high school in your town. She’s also the one that ate an entire Oreo cheesecake, two bags of Cool Ranch Doritos, two bacon cheeseburgers with blue cheese and chugged two 2-liter Cokes at your Super Bowl party last year and didn’t gain a pound. You look at her and say to yourself, “what the hell?”

Eight Super Bowls between them. A pair of future Hall of Fame QBs and a revenge factor. This one’s for the AFC Championship. It’s “winner take all.” Pittsburgh makes this one closer than the 6 1/2 but Denver gets revenge at home and moves on and could cover the 6 1/2.